Within the past two days, two influential Arab figures died: Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah and Nasr Hamid Abuzeid. Fadlallah is a prominent Shi`i cleric whose influence stretched much farther than his Lebanese home and Abuzeid`s critical writings on literalism in Islam brought him a deluge of condemnation as an apostate. Their legacies are certainly divergent but they both adopted critical forms of thinking and broke with their respective establishment in various ways. Fadlallah broke with the wilayat al-faqih in Iran and Lebanon, and Abuzeid broke with various literalist approaches to interpreting the Qur`an in Egypt.
In the mainstream western press, particularly in the United States, Fadlallah will be remembered--if at all--through the narrow prism of the "war on terror" because of his earlier connection with Iran and Hizballah, a connection that was broken because of his rejection of the wilayat al-faqih. Abuzeid, often critiqued by the left and fellow secularists because he allowed himself to be tokenized in Europe by those who vilified Islam, will not be remembered for his courage in fighting a big portion of the religious establishment in Egypt. Here are some reports that appeared in the blogosphere and the press so far on Fadlallah (1, 2, 3) and Abizeid (1, 2 ,3). (For a bouquet of serious commentary, see pages 4-7 in Assafir`s obituary here).
I had the opportunity to interview both Fadlallah and Abuzeid in Lebanon and Holland respectively for a documentary on "terrorism." The interviews were moving, especially in the realm of self-criticism, where self here refers to one`s society and elements in it. Fadlallah appeared in episode 3 on "Terrorism and Resistance" while Abuzeid will appear in the third and last installment of the documentary project. If I can find the time, I`ll post excerpts. Below is Reuters` report: